Bless Your Witch, Book 3
Dylan Apel just wants to run her dress-design shop, spend time with sexy witch detective Roman Bane, and do her best to keep her crazy family out of trouble. But when the new witch queen is murdered, Dylan is chosen to take her place as interim queen of the South!
Shouldn’t be a problem for a strong witch, right? But stricken with guilt after an unfortunate accident, Dylan’s been neglecting her studies. Now she must help find a fiendishly clever murderer before someone else dies. Even worse, if she and Roman cannot deduce the culprit, Dylan may be forced to give up her powers in the worst possible way—by dying herself.
Trapped in Castle Witch with a wide array of magical suspects and an incredibly annoying wooden parrot, can Dylan and Roman discover in time who is lying, who’s telling the truth, and who’s the killer?
“This pumpkin is beyond gross. Can I please throw it out?” I stared at the saggy baggy remnants of a hollowed-out Halloween pumpkin that sat lopsided on my front porch. A few weeks earlier—scratch that; an entire month and a half earlier—it had greeted children for Halloween.
Now the fungi-ridden vegetable (or was it a fruit since it had seeds?) made the house look like we were desperately clinging to the past, like those people who keep their Christmas lights up until February or April or even summer and then call them summer lights.
I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I imagine there are folks who do that.
Right? I’m not making that up, am I?
My grandmother Hazel appeared on the other side of the screen door. “It’s there to ward off evil.”
“What evil?” I asked. “The only thing this monstrosity is going to ward off is the world from approaching us. Children are going to start throwing rocks and talking about the creepy Apel family.”
Grandma gave a dramatic sniff as she tossed her multicolored scarf over her neck. She wore a red holiday sweater with silver sequins shaped like a snowman, a wool hat, the scarf, brown leggings and black rubber boots that made her look like she was about to go duck hunting.
She petted her scarf. “You don’t know what evil because the pumpkin’s been keeping it away.”
“Sera,” I yelled.
My younger sister Seraphina popped into view. She looked fabulous as always in a cream-colored cowl-necked sweater, dark skinny jeans and brown ankle boots. Sera made fashion seem easy. Me, I designed dresses for a living, but I always kept my wardrobe simple—jeans, a crisp shirt, boots, nothing fancy.
Sera tucked a strand of chin-length bob behind her ear. “Dylan’s right. That thing’s going to attract disease or something.”
Grandma crimped her lips. “It’s keeping disease at bay. You haven’t been sick, have you?”
Sera tipped her head to one side. “You know, I haven’t.”
I swiped an arm across my forehead. “Oh, come on. This thing has not been keeping us healthy. It’s only December. Everyone knows flu season won’t start for another month. Besides, isn’t Nan guarding you, Grandma?”
Nan, my grandma’s bodyguard/caregiver, crossed over to the door. Her salt-and-pepper hair matched her gray housecoat and slippers. “Yep. That’s what I’m here for. Bring me any ruffian you want. I’ll show them who’s boss.” Her hand sliced the air karate-chop style.
I quirked a brow. “See? We don’t need a pumpkin when we’ve got Nan.”
Grandma shrugged. “Fine. Get rid of it.”
Victory! I snapped the giant trash bag at my feet and tightened the latex gloves on my hands.
Grandma opened the screen door. “Dylan, you can’t just throw it away. You have to get rid of it magically.”
Oh wait. Here we go. I haven’t told you yet, have I? I come from a family of witches. Awesome, right? Not quite. Witchy power might seem cool and all, but I’ve already been the target of someone who wanted to kill me. Not once but twice. Kind of puts a sour taste in your mouth when it comes to working magic.
I sighed. “What do you want me to do? Vanish it or something?”
Grandma nodded. “Yes.”
I grinned at my sister, who’d taken a seat inside on the couch. “Why don’t we get Sera to do it?”
“Touch that thing?” she quipped. “No way.”
“I’ve got gloves.”
“You can do it. Vanishing is easy.”
Sure. Vanishing was easy. No problem.
I plastered on a smile for Grandma. “Why don’t you do this? It’s your pumpkin.”
“I’m not the one who wants to get rid of it.”
“We wouldn’t be arguing about it at all if you hadn’t put it here.”
Grandma fluffed the ends of her triangle-shaped head of hair. “Just vanish it, Dylan. That’s easy.”
Right. Sounded easy. I rubbed my hands together.
“Grandma, could you shut the door?” My baby sister Reid called out from the living room. “It’s getting cold.”
Grandma glanced back. “Yes, but first Dylan has to bind the pumpkin from speaking.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I thought I was vanishing it.”
Grandma cleared her throat. “You must magically tape the pumpkin’s mouth so that it doesn’t run off and tell other pumpkins, or anyone else, our deepest secrets.”
Who was this pumpkin? A reporter for US Weekly? “What sort of stuff do you mean? Like Sera waxes her upper lip?”
“I heard that,” she griped from the couch.
I looked at the slopping heap of orange, black and green, its once-amused grin now a deformed hole. “Are you serious?”
Grandma nodded. “So shall it be written. So shall it be done.”
“She’s quoting Moses,” Sera said.
“No, she’s not,” Nan said, dusting a patch of flour from her housecoat. “Ramses said that.”
Sera frowned. “He did?”
“He certainly did. Who could forget that hunky Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments? I had every one of his lines memorized.”
“Good to know,” Sera said.
Grandma studied me. “Go for it, Dylan. There’s no time to lose but the present. Bind the mouth.”
“With what, exactly?” I asked.
She pulled a roll of duct tape from her pocket. “With this.”
I folded my arms. “Do you always walk around with tape in your pocket?”
“No. But I knew you’d force me to get rid of the pumpkin, so I brought it out.”
I snapped off a line of tape and extended my hands toward the ghoulish blob.
“Be careful. He bites.”
I stopped. Glanced at her. “Are you kidding? You’re joking, right?”
She shook her head. “Oh no. He bites.”
“Of course. What other sex would a pumpkin head be?”
I shrugged. “Perhaps it would be, I don’t know, sexless?”
She shook her head. “Definitely not.”
I flapped my hands, loosening them so they’d be as dexterous as possible. I envisioned the tape sticking straight over the deranged grin and sealing it shut.
That’s how magic works, you see. So shall it be seen in the mind. So shall it be done.
The ghoulish orange mass puckered its lips and chomped. It gnashed the air like a rapid vegetable intent on passing its nasty disease to anyone stupid enough to get close.
“Ah!” I dropped on my behind, a zinger of pain shooting up my spine. “What the—”
Grandma smiled. “I told you to watch out.”
“Wrangle it, Dylan. You can do it,” Grandma said, cheering me on.
I brushed away a lock of dark hair that had dived into my face. “Since you know so much about it, care to give me any pointers?”
She closed her eyes, swaying to the frigid breeze. “Feel the magic. Be one with it.”
“Someone’s about to be one with my fist if that door doesn’t shut,” Reid shouted.
I rose and crossed to the screen. My baby sister lay on the couch, a tablet in her hands, earbuds in her ears and her Converse-clad feet tapping out a rhythm only she could hear.
I smacked the door frame. “What’s with the violence, baby sister? We don’t need any of that.”
“I’m cold,” she whined like any battle-weary eighteen-year-old who had nothing better to do than skim social media all day.
“We’ll shut the door in just a sec. Put a sweater on. Grandma’s probably got one with sparkle reindeer you could wear.”
Reid rolled her eyes and returned to scrolling her tablet.
My gaze cut back to the pumpkin. “Sera, you sure you don’t want to do this?”
“Oh, I’m sure. I like watching too much.”
“But you’re better at this sort of thing than I am.”
Sera laughed. “Dylan, a few months ago you defeated a witch who was stealing magic. I’m pretty sure you can place a piece of tape over a pumpkin’s mouth.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sure. No problem.”
Exhaling, I glared at the grotesque bygone jack-o’-lantern and braced myself. Power flared in my core, rushing over my skin, making the hairs on my arms tingle.
The pumpkin gnashed, its strange, unholy lips flapping. I slapped the tape over its mouth.
When the decayed head was sufficiently taped up, I stepped back and wiped a line of sweat from my brow.
“Could anyone else see its mouth moving like that?”
Grandma grinned. “No. Only those of us with magic could witness it. It’s to make sure you bind him correctly.”
I clicked my tongue. “So you made it chomp at me on purpose.”
She blinked in rapid fire. “Dylan, it’s the way magic works. The head was spelled. It’s part of the learning process.”
I sucked in a breath. “I’m going to try not to be angry about the fact that you couldn’t unspell him just for me.”
“The correct term is unmagic, and you misunderstand as always. I couldn’t unmagic him. If I did that, then he’d certainly be telling someone our secrets. But you’d know that if you decided to embrace your culture and learn the ways of witches.”
“No thanks. Not interested.” Truth be told, I’d had enough of witches. If I never saw another, I’d be just fine.
I lugged the squishy mass into the living room and plopped it on the floor.
Sera glanced up from reading a cookbook dedicated to cakes. “What’s that thing doing in here?”
“I’ve got to vanish it.”
Reid set her tablet on the table. “Don’t leave it in here too long. It’ll smell up the place. I don’t want Rick to think we’re dirty.”
I looked at her. “Is he coming over today?”
She nodded. “Yes, so I’ve got to look my best. He’s so dreamy.”
“Dreamy? Been watching Rebel without a Cause, have you? Is he also the bees knees?”
“Ha. You’re just jealous,” she snapped.
“Nope. Not at all. I’ve got my own dreamy guy to drool over.”
“How is Roman?” Sera asked.
I grinned. “He’s great. We’re supposed to have dinner tonight.”
Roman Bane, chief detective of Silver Springs, held the esteemed position—well, I thought it was esteemed—of being my, um, boyfriend, I suppose you could say. He’d been out of town for the past few days, but he was scheduled to return tonight.
“Now, Dylan, when you vanish this pumpkin, I want to remind you that there goes our protection,” Grandma said.
“I’ll risk it.”
Grandma crossed to a built-in cabinet and unlatched the door. She pulled out what looked like a World War II army helmet and proceeded to strap it on her head.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“For what happens when you vanish the pumpkin.”
My gaze brushed over Sera and Reid. Sera shrugged. “Do it. Vanish the thing. Live dangerously.”
“Reid?” I asked.
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
Nan popped her head in from the kitchen. “Let me at ’em. I’ll splat ’em.”
“Thank you, Scrappy-Doo.” I sighed. I got the feeling this was one of those darned-if-you-do, darned-if-you-don’t scenarios.
“Sera, are you sure you don’t want to vanish it?”
She shut the book. “What’s with asking me to do magic for you?”
I shrugged. “Just thought you’d like some practice.”
“I practice every day,” she said. “It sounds like you’re the one needing practice.”
“No,” I lied. “I’m good.”
She squinted at me as if I were guilty of something. Like lying. “Dylan, have you been practicing your magic?”
I hadn’t. Not at all.
“Then this should be easy,” Sera said.
“Sera’s right,” Grandma added. “Vanishing is like thinking of a puffy cloud on a cloudless day—unavoidable and simple.”
“If it’s so simple, you can do it,” I said.
“Dylan, what’s up?” Sera said. “Why haven’t you been practicing?”
“I never said I haven’t been. Of course I have been. I’m a witch, after all.”
Sera and Grandma exchanged glances.
Great. Now I was a topic for suspicious glances across the room. “Fine. I haven’t been practicing. Ever since that night with Sumi Umi, this whole witch thing hasn’t set well with me.”
“But you seemed fine after that,” Sera said.
I scratched my head. “I just—I really don’t like magic, and I want to have as little to do with witches and their crazy world as possible.”
“But we’re witches,” Grandma said.
“I have no choice when it comes to y’all. Y’all are the only witches I want in my life. The rest can vanish.”
“Speaking of vanishing,” Grandma said. “Ready to do the deed on the pumpkin?”
“Did anyone hear what I said?”
Sera yawned. “Yeah, but the pumpkin stinks. We’ll psychoanalyze you later.”
“Okay,” I said. I pressed one hand atop the pumpkin. A string of blue magic snaked down my arm. Light flashed from my hand, and the pumpkin was gone.
“Whew,” I said. “Glad that’s over. Now we can set the nutcrackers outside and this place can begin to feel like Christmas. I mean, we’ve only got a few days, seeing as the solstice is almost here.”
“Holy heck,” Reid shrieked, pointing toward the fireplace. “What’s that?”
I snapped my neck toward the mantle. A wedge of fire hovered in the air. I shrank back, casting a questioning glance around the room.
“Go see what it is, Dylan,” Sera said. “You’re the brave one.”
I shot her a dark look. My feet shuffled like lead irons across the floor. As I closed in, I realized the wedge of fire was a flaming scroll of paper.
Tendrils of orange and red licked the air. Heat flushed my face. “Grandma,” I squeaked. “What is that?”
“It’s a piece of paper that’s been set on fire, Dylan. What else could it be?”
“I realize that,” I seethed. “But what is it?”
She crossed to me, adjusted the helmet strap under her chin. “How would I know? I haven’t read it.”
Think happy thoughts. “I know that, but what am I supposed to do?”
“Tell it to open.”
I knotted up my courage and said in my most authoritative voice, “Open.”
The scroll unfurled. A message had been written in gold letters.
THE PRESENCE OF THE APEL HOUSEHOLD IS REQUIRED AT CASTLE WITCH TO CAST YOUR BALLOT IN THE QUEEN WITCH ELECTION
“What does that mean?” Sera said. “How do we get to Castle Witch? What is Castle Witch? And there are elections?”
Grandma cleared her throat. “Of course there are elections. Queen Witches don’t grow on trees, you know. It means we have to go and vote for a new queen.”
“A new queen? When?” I asked. I did not, I repeat, did not want to go anywhere near a pile of witches or their castle.
“Well now, of course.” Grandma clicked her tongue, raised her eyebrow at me. “Told you to keep the pumpkin.”